Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Let's see what interesting items turn up in our miscellanea today. First off, here is an article in the Wall Street Journal that admits that the quality of streamed music is, well, not that great: Streaming Music Sounds Terrible. These Apps Can Help.
NO ONE DEBATES the impact of streaming music. Having virtually every song ever recorded just a few clicks or a shout to “Alexa” away has revolutionized the way we enjoy and interact with our favorite artists’ work.
Also beyond debate, sadly: how terrible most streaming music sounds, especially to generations weaned on the quality of CDs and the warm sound of vinyl. Worse, Spotify and Apple Music, the two streaming services that sport the greatest reach, lack intuitive interfaces and are by far the weakest.
I suspect, and some commentators agreed, that fiddling with the results does not compensate for the original loss of quality. One thing about CDs is that, on cheap systems, they tend to sound better than vinyl because they don't scratch and they have a punchier sound. But on a really high end system, the superiority of vinyl is audible. Nothing, however, sounds good on laptop speakers!

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And another university manages to come up with a really pointless "study" of music: Sharks love jazz but are stumped by classical, say scientists. Bypassing that dumbed-down headline we discover:
In a paper published in Animal Cognition, the researchers, led by Catarina Vila Pouca, trained juvenile Port Jackson sharks to swim over to where jazz was playing, to receive food. It has been thought that sharks have learned to associate the sound of a boat engine with food, because food is often thrown from tourist boats to attract sharks to cage-diving expeditions – the study shows that they can learn these associations quickly.
The test was made more complex with the addition of classical music – this confused the sharks, who couldn’t differentiate between jazz and classical. “It was obvious that the sharks knew that they had to do something when the classical music was played, but they couldn’t figure out that they had to go to a different location,” said researcher Culum Brown. “The task is harder than it sounds, because the sharks had to learn that different locations were associated with a particular genre of music, which was then paired with a food reward. Perhaps with more training, they would have figured it out.”
Uh, guys, sharks are animals? They may be relatively smart instinctual predators, but still. "Figuring out" stuff is what human minds do.

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I think we have mentioned this piece before here at the Music Salon, but it is in the news again due to performances in Philadelphia: Bowerbird's 2-man music contraption is a hot ticket for 4 remaining Philly shows. This likely the oddest musical instrument ever created:


Mauricio Kagel is the composer of the music for this collection of instruments:
The cluster of musical instruments seems to stretch as far as the eye can see, both down the room and up to the ceiling. They’re pointed every which way, and played in a way that suggests the world forgot what they are and how they usually work.
Timpani is played by a rolling pin with spikes. A trombone slide is equipped with a mallet that hits a xylophone. A horn has a Hindustani tabla drum stuffed in its bell; it’s both blown and tapped.
Rather than having a bow play a cello, the cello — strapped to a rocking chair, swaying back and forth — plays the bow.
The piece is Mauricio Kagel’s Zwei Mann Orchester (“Two-Man Band”), heard last week in the first of a series of “Sound Machines” performances in the Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University’s URBN Annex.
If I were in Philadelphia I would try and get a ticket, if only to watch the two players in action.

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 The New York Times has an interesting article about the survival of a library of Baroque music in the lowlands of Bolivia: Jesuit Legacy in the Bolivian Jungle: A Love of Baroque Music.
The music has admirers well beyond the Bolivian lowlands. One is Ashley Solomon, a professor at the Royal College of Music in London who traveled to the city of Santa Cruz this April to conduct at a festival of baroque music held once each two years at the former Jesuit missions.
Of course, since it is the New York Times, ideological points have to be made:
Mr. Solomon recalled years ago giving a concert in San Javier, west of ConcepciĆ³n and the site of a sprawling white-and-black Jesuit mission whose wood facade overlooks the main square.
When his group, Florilegium, began to play an 18th-century flute concerto, “Pastoreta Ychepe Flauta,” he was amazed, he said, to hear members of the audience, townspeople who knew the piece, humming the music too.
“We could play Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ in London and no one would be singing along,” Mr. Solomon said. “But in Bolivia people took the music for their own — and got to the core essence of what music is about.”
You see what they did there? The Bolivians are better because they have this mystical connection to the core essence of the music, unlike the imperialist, oppressor audiences in London.

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John Luther Adams is undoubtedly America's most geographic composer and the LA Times has the story: Becoming John Luther Adams: The evolution of one of America's hottest composers.
A month ago, the Seattle Symphony premiered a sequel, "Become Desert," which was international news. A week later, the orchestra brought the work to Berkeley, where I heard it, for the California premiere.
Compared to "Become Ocean," "Become Desert" is a study in stupefying stillness. High string harmonics reminded me of the relentless sun. In real life, Adams is often seen wearing a hat. But in this music, there is no protection from aural ultraviolet light. Rustling sounds are like insects or plucked cactus or shifting sand. After a long while, you begin to lose a sense of reality, the shimmer stimulating aural mirages.
There is something about the immense geography of North America, much of it devoid of the signs of human life, that inspires composers. One thinks of the year Elliot Carter spent in the Sonoran desert composing his first string quartet.

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The Violin Channel has dug up a performance, by the Istanbul State Symphony conducted by Efdal Altun, that may herald the future of classical music performance if we take the advice of all those marketing experts:


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And finally, to clear the palate, let's have a more traditional kind of performance, without selfies. How about that String Quartet No. 1 by Elliot Carter? The performers are the Julliard String Quartet:


9 comments:

Steven Watson said...

Have you seen Taruskin's Oxford lecture on the Shostakovich Piano Quintet which was just put up on YouTube? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skAFru23KTk&index=51&list=PLO8heR1nSozkNDhQfnBLSeWWdE--HJVfn

I'm nearly half-way through (will finish it tonight), and he's still barely talked about the Quintet itself! But it's fascinating. I hadn't heard him speak before and unsurprisingly he's excellent.

Bryan Townsend said...

Hi Steven and thanks for that link! I am eager to see it myself. I have heard him speak before. At a musicology conference in Baltimore that I attended a number of years ago, my faculty advisor Tamara Levitz debated him in an open forum on the neo-classical movement in 20th century music.

Marc said...

Was on the verge of breaking down and reading that article about sharks at the Guardian-- so glad I didn't waste my time on it. Sometimes their imprudent satisfying of their ideological needs results in a truly comical 'front page'.

While I agree that Ashley Solomon sounds-- in the Casey article in the NYT-- ... like one would expect that someone in his metropolitan arts position would sound, going on about 'the natives' soulful connexion to the music' etc etc, I was pleased to read about the subject and place and local musicians etc etc (granted, all of that is probably already well known in the relevant academic offices). What he, Nicholas Casey, says is called 'Mission Baroque' shows up at Spotify but I've never spent much time listening. Fascinating, too, that lutes, violins etc are still made from local cedar and mahogany.

Bryan Townsend said...

We read them so you don't have to!

Oh yes, the article on Baroque music in Bolivia was quite interesting.

Marc said...

Maybe Miss Wang has a conducting career in her future.

That SonarWorks calibration software is downloading now (free trial!!). The app is downloaded to the laptop, and then works via the Bluetooth wireless connexion (fine when I am at home; useless when I'm out, until there is a mobile app). Am too clueless to report what is actually happening but it provides what I'd describe as 'more clarity'. Listening to Gorecki's Third Symphony, I don't think I'd ever actually heard the first several measures because the bass-heavy sound wasn't being emitted by the Bose speaker, at least not at the volume it's usually set at. One of the 'personalisations' is bass adjustment; the other one is meant 'to compensate for age-related hearing loss', evidently (it progresses by year until 60, ha, then the rest of us are 'over 60'). Elizabeth Schwartzkopf's Strauss's Vier letzte Lieder sounds splendid. Will perhaps explore a bit more over the next ten days. I don't like using the headphones so am not an item in the intended market.

Bryan Townsend said...

Like you I am not fond of listening with headphones. Sounds like the app is kind of an equalizer. When I was taking a seminar on Shostakovich I discovered that my speakers were just not up to the multiple low-bass lines in his Symphony No. 2. It was all muddy rumbling. So I went out and bought some Cerwin Vega speakers and that made all the difference. Now I have a Polk Audio sub-woofer that does a good job. Those bass drum thwacks in the Rite of Spring really lift you off your chair!

Marc said...

As it happens, I turned the headphones off and the Sonarworks app continued to function via the Bluetooth-enabled Bose speaker (which on further investigation does indeed show up in the 'settings' section of the app menu on the laptop, so I guess this is design, not chance, and headphones are not necessary. Hmm. Since the Bose Soundlink Mini or Mini II are what I will be living with for the foreseeable future, barring that lottery win, I may decide to keep the app after all. But now it occurs to me that perhaps the laptop itself can do a certain amount anyway of what the SW app does. Eh, going back to I Lombardi. And then Kanye.

Bryan Townsend said...

That's cool. I used a Bose Mini Soundlink for a while, but always had problems with it. Sometimes it just didn't want to connect. Finally it started producing large amounts of static whenever I tried to use it with my music software. That was the main reason for having it, so I just chucked it. Now I am using a set of speakers from Creative that seem to work just fine. This is just with my iMac, though.

Marc said...

First thing this morning, went through that refusal to connect nonsense-- something going loopy in between the Bose Mini, Spotify, and the Soundware app took the laptop devoted to Euterpe 'offline' (so Spotify told me, anyway; the laptop said it was connected to the wireless network and the other laptop was unaffected). Shut down all of them and after Spotify was back up, reconnected the Bose and then turned on Soundware. Has worked fine since. That recalled to my mind, however, the reason why I had been running the Bose via cable from the laptop's audio output until yesterday morning's trial of the Soundware app-- had given up on trying to keep it connected via Bluetooth. When the time comes, I'll not be very happy if I have moved on to the Soundlink Mini II only to find that it too fails to stay connected through ordinary ups and downs.